Saving Sight

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Eyesight fades a little bit with age. It’s a natural process, one that is an ordinary result of the eye getting older. What is not normal is gradually losing the ability to see things in the center of the visual field, having difficulty adapting to low light levels, not being able to read normally because the words are blurred, or having difficulty making out enough detail on other people’s faces to recognize them.

That is a condition called age-related macular degeneration the most common cause of blindness in developed nations. Macular degeneration runs in families and is more common among smokers and obese people. A healthy diet is recommended to avoid the condition, and studies suggest cholesterol-fighting drugs can help prevent the condition or stop its progress.

Although it’s called age-related macular degeneration and most commonly affects people over age 65, researchers have recently found that the processes within the eye that lead to the condition begin earlier, with some patients starting to show symptoms in their 40s in eye exams. Regular eye exams are an important part of fighting the condition—the degeneration can be slowed or stopped, but lost eyesight cannot be restored. The symptoms of the disease are not always noticeable early on, but there are some signs an eye doctor would be able to spot.

While the cause of macular degeneration isn’t entirely clear, research has found that one culprit might be deposits of minerals forming in the eye. The condition has long been understood to involve fat-and-protein deposits in the retina starving the cells of the center of the eye of needed nutrients. The latest study found the source of these deposits. The scientists discovered that calcium phosphate from the bones and teeth act as seeds, places fat and proteins cluster around to form these blockages. Armed with this information, doctors may be able to diagnose the condition before it really gets underway by looking for calcium phosphate in the eyes.

A different study found that an anti-inflammatory drug called sulindac can help protect the eyes from damage. The researchers determined that the drug helps prevent a type of damage to the cells called oxidative stress, which is behind many signs of aging.

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